July 18, 2019
Parish Associate for Congregational Life and Care
Did you pick out a ‘star’ gift last January in worship? Although I missed that Epiphany Sunday, a purple paper star appeared in my mailbox. When I turned it over, I was relieved: it read ‘friendship’! Ah, that’s an easy one. I have plenty of friends from the Derry community, from my family and a network of colleagues and long-time friends. This year’s star-gift challenge would be a breeze.
What has surprised me has been the new friends who have entered my life.
As part of my sabbatical, I met four Catholic priests -- actually Franciscan friars -- who attended a spiritual retreat along with me. Most of the week was spent in silence, but I enjoyed my meal conversations and discussions with them each day. Perhaps the friendship that grew the most for me was my time alone with God, a new learning for me to be completely unplugged, unscheduled and totally available for listening. I’m still trying to create those distraction-free spaces to further cultivate and deepen this friendship.
More new friends have been Muslim mosque leaders who live only minutes from my home. As part of my sabbatical, I was hoping to learn more about Islam and be able to share my journey with others at Derry. I was challenged by Pastor Barbara Brown Taylor who said, “Religious illiteracy is a luxury we can no longer afford.” I confess that I was one of many who had never talked with a Muslim or entered a mosque, much less observed a prayer service. So, I mustered up the courage to begin attending Friday prayers at several local mosques. There I met women who welcomed me with warmth and kindness, along with a kiss of peace. Mohammed and Osman, leaders at the Hummelstown mosque, gave me a Koran on my first visit, provided a chair for sitting, carefully explained what would happen during their salat prayers, and sent flowers to Derry when they heard of terrorist attacks at a Sri Lanka church on Easter Sunday.
I was surprised to find the Bosnian Islamic Center was only ten minutes from my home, and there I met imam Dzemal Crnkic, one of the many Bosnian refugees who have settled in our region. Most have come as a result of the ethnic cleansing that occurred in the 1990s as the result of the genocide by the Serbian Orthodox Christians. I was humbled to learn more about the history of Islam and the enormous contributions by Islamic scholars, physicians, scientists and mathematicians (remember we all use Arabic numerals every day). It was a delight to introduce Dzemal to our Derry study group a few weeks ago as he shared an introduction to his faith. Those of us who were able to travel to Mechanicsburg to observe the Friday Jummah prayers at the Bosnian mosque were impressed by beautiful recitation of the Koran and faithful prayers of adoration and praise to God. The congregation provided a feast of Bosnian food and delicious pastries as they answered our questions.
I am blessed by many friends, but grateful for these new friends who open my eyes to the wonder and diversity of God’s presence. I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year brings my way.
Editor’s Note: Looking for your own star gift, or one for a friend? Help yourself from the basket at the Welcome Center.